Danil Bekturganov: Youth of Kazakhstan: the path to the elites
“The process of change of elites in Kazakhstan society is going on, but young people do not have time to participate in it, because by the time when businessmen or civil servants are gaining the necessary political weight to enter the ranks of the Kazakh political elites, they are no longer included in the category of “youth”, said Danil Bekturganov, President of PF “The Civil Expertise” (Almaty, Kazakhstan), in an article written exclusively for CABAR.asia.
The process of change and renewal of political elites is going on constantly and everywhere. In countries with well-developed civil society and deep-rooted traditions of the political establishment, this process is natural and invisible; in totalitarian despotic regimes, the change of elites often means a fundamental change in society, and sometimes the collapse of the state as such. Between these two poles, there is the widest variety of options, methods and practices. Every country in this regard is both unique and commonplace: unique – because the political elites are made up of personalities, and personalities are always unique; and commonplace – because the laws of political science, and sometimes biology, after all, are universal. In this regard, it would be interesting to explore the process of renewal of the political elites in Kazakhstan, because this country is a typical representative of the countries in the transition period, with a poorly diversified commodity economy, which however, still has a relatively good standard of living. This relatively high standard of living enables some representatives of young people to receive either the best domestic or Western education, and, more importantly, to see the life of developed and prosperous countries from inside. What is the process of integration of young people in the political elites of Kazakhstan?
Background – Kazakhstan’s experience.
To begin, we need a brief historical review is necessary. In 1991, the year of Kazakhstan’s independence, President Nazarbayev himself was a relatively young leader – he was 51. Given that in the Soviet Union, the power had belonged to “the Kremlin elders” for decades, the contrast was obvious. In general, the whole team of the then leadership of the country was relatively young. Around the mid to late 1990s, young people quickly made a career in business and politics, reaching senior positions in the government. That period is still called the “Age of Young Turks”. The new elites, not connected with the Communist past and without reputation problems associated with the negative public’s perception of the Soviet experience that dominated at that time the, made significant changes in the political and business life of the country. The turning point happened in 1998, during the first presidential election campaign after a long break. President Nazarbayev, who was already 58 at that time, had conflict with his adviser, former prime minister Kazhegeldin, who at that time was 46. As a result, Kazhegeldin was forced to leave the country, and after the 1999 elections, “the era of young Turks” ended. Up to 2001, political figures who previously remained in the shadows in the Kazakh politics were gradually gaining political weight; these figures represented the so-called “old guard” of managers, composed of former party and Komsomol leaders. The last wave of political activity of “Young Turks” took place in 2002, when the socio-political movement “Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan” (DCK) was established in Kazakhstan. However, after the defeat in the election campaign of 2004 and the closure of the political party of DCK in the following year, the political activity of “Young Turks” gradually came to naught. Of course, not all representatives of that generation of politicians and businessmen were in the ranks of the opposition DCK. Many of them remained loyal to the regime. In general, they still have some influence and political weight. However, the era of their dominance is over. We cannot say that the situation that established at that time was similar to that one in the late Soviet Union, when the elderly occupied all the top positions in the state. However, there have not been any other cases of massive participation of young people in government and their impact on the socio-political processes in the Kazakh history since the 1990s. (1)
Of course, the government understands the need to involve young and energetic people with quality education in public administration. To address this problem, the program “Bolashak” was launched in the country in 1993. This program allowed the talented youth to get education abroad at the expense of state scholarships. As part of the program, more than 11,000 young Kazakhs were trained in 200 universities in more than 30 countries.
The statistics showing where the graduates of the program are working today is not available; it is known that the graduates find employment in the national public companies operating in the structure of the Fund “Samruk-Kazyna” in the regional and city administrations, in the Offices of the Parliament and the government, law enforcement agencies, and commercial organizations – banks, insurance companies, etc. Graduates of the program organized of the Association of graduates of “Bolashak” program. This association, now having more than 10 thousand members, is itself an “elite incubator” supplying young educated professionals in both public and business structures. Undoubtedly, these specialists themselves form the “elite clubs”, which in the future will set the pace in the politics of the country (2). However, at the moment, it can be argued that these elite groups are under-represented in those public bodies entrusted with the right to make decisions on important issues of political and business life. To test this assertion, we turn to the composition of the Parliament, the Government and local executive authorities.
Youth and Parliament
Kazakhstan has a bicameral Parliament consisting of the Mazhilis (lower chamber) and the Senate (upper house). Parliament is the supreme representative body of the country. How are young people represented in the Parliament?
Under Kazakh law, the minimum age, at which it is possible to nominate candidates for the deputies of the Senate of the Parliament, is 30 years old; there is not any age limit for deputies of the Mazhilis. Thus, there are no formal obstacles to the participation of young people in the Majilis of the Parliament; however, in practice the picture is different. In accordance with the Constitution, the law on elections and political parties, the formation of the party list of candidates for seats in the Majilis depends entirely on the political parties themselves. None of the parties enshrined in their statutes the procedural requirements for the composition, election procedure and responsibility for drawing up the party list. For example, the party “Nur Otan” ruling at the moment used the practice of the so-called “party primaries” since 2007. At the same time, the results of the internal elections are advisory in nature, and the party members who won during the “party primaries” may not enter into a list that the party submits to the Central Election Commission. The parties have no obligation to include their young members into the list; as a result, only 2 deputies of the 107 deputies of the Majilis of the 5 convocation are younger than 40 years old, and there are not young people (younger than 30 years old) in the Mazhilis (3).
As for the Senate, the youth in the Senate is not represented at all. Moreover, there are only two people of mature age – 50 years old in the Senate, the other 45 deputies are 50 years old and older (4).
Youth and Government
The Government of Kazakhstan, in accordance with the legislation in force, is formed by the President of the country. The structure of the Government consists of 13 ministries and the Office of the Prime Minister; the composition of the Government comprises the Prime Minister, his Deputy, the First Vice Prime Minister and the Head of the Office of the Prime Minister. In total, the Government includes 17 persons. Are young people represented in the Government?
They are not. The youngest member of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan is the Head of the Office of the Prime Minister G. Abdrahimov – he is 40. By the way, he also is a graduate of “Bolashak” program. If we consider the representation of young people directly in the ministries themselves, we will certainly see a very large number of young professionals. Thus, the Ministry of Education and Science has the Department of Youth Policy with the staffing of 30 people. But it is difficult to assess what impact the department has on the decisions taken by the Ministry and the Government (5).
Young people in public service
How are young people represented in the local executive authorities – in regional and city akimats? Kazakhstan has 14 oblasts and 2 cities of republican subordination – the country’s capital of Astana and Almaty are the largest cities. There are no people younger than 40 among these 16 governors. Of course, if we consider the composition of the akims’ offices, we can see the Departments of Youth Policy and other structures at every office, and they employ young professionals. However, just as in the case of the Ministries, it is impossible to evaluate how these departments affect the decisions made by Akimats (6).
According to the national report “Youth of Kazakhstan”, Kazakh young people consider a job in the civil service as a priority career; the Alumni Association of “Bolashak” program confirms this information. According to the Alumni Association of “Bolashak” program, more than 74% of Bolashak alumni are willing to serve in government bodies. How are these ambitions realized?
An analysis of the data of the Agency for Civil Service Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan (now – the Agency for Civil Service Affairs and Anti-Corruption), as of 1 January 2014, has shown that there are total of 22,306 young government employees in the republic (under 30 years old), of whom 2 are political, and 22304 – in administration. The proportion of young employees in the central state organs is high – 13,103 (including in the Office of Mazhilis of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan – 36, and in the Office of the Senate – 19). The proportion of young employees in the local executive bodies amounted to about 41.2% of the total number of young public servants. The greatest number of young civil servants in local executive bodies is in the South Kazakhstan (961 people) and Almaty (834) oblasts. The lowest representation is in Atyrau oblast (296) and in the city of Astana (290). However, it should be emphasized that among these employees, there are only 7 people who are in structure “A”, and there is not any member of the Parliament, member of the Government or akim of the oblast level (7).
As for the representation of young people in local administrations, according to the Agency for civil service affairs and anti-corruption, at the beginning of 2014, the number of akims of all levels and their deputies under the age of 30 years old amounted to 115 people (in 2013 – 169). Their greatest number is in Kostanai oblast (21), the lowest is in the cities of Astana, Almaty and Mangistau region (1). In 2013, Kostanay oblast also was in the lead in this indicator (31), the lowest representation was also in Almaty and Astana (3). The number of civil servants under the age of 30 years old in the offices of the maslikhats of all levels amounted to 142 people. The greatest number of young people are working in maslikhats of Almaty (19) and Kostanai (16) oblasts. The lowest number of young people working in maslikhats is in Atyrau oblast and in the city of Almaty (3). In Almaty, there are not young civil servants in the office of maslikhat.
As seen from the above data, in 2014 compared with 2013, there is a decrease in the proportion of young people in all categories of civil servants. Perhaps, this is due to the processes of formation of a new model of public service and the overall reduction in the number of political civil servants declared within the Program 2050. The share of young political officials in 2013 was 88 people, and at the beginning of 2014, their number was 2 people. According to the Agency for civil service, there was a general 8-times reduction in the number of political civil servants (8)
There is also a specific Central Asian problem with social psychology. Kazakh society as a whole lives in the tradition of paternalism. In this regard, young people experience some additional discomfort, manifested in the “lack of legitimacy complex” – young civil servants think that they are not taken seriously because of their young age. This leads to rather serious negative consequences – young officials are trying to camouflage their lack of confidence by rudeness and boorishness that could potentially lead to social conflict.
It can be concluded that despite the availability of proper education, the high motivation of young people and their desire to work in the public service, the “window of opportunities” for young people is shrinking. On the one hand, public policies aimed at budgetary savings and at the reduction of bureaucracy contribute to this; on the other hand, the competition is growing among young people, because the number of young people with good education and high ambitions is continuously growing.
Young people and business
However, this trend does not prevent young people from pursuing careers in other fields, and enter the ranks of political elites of the country not through “the path of public official”, but through “the path of businessman”. Don’t forget that many of the most famous Kazakh politicians came to the government or the parliament from business circles. In this connection, it is interesting to examine how young people are involved in the business processes, and in general in the economic life of the country.
According to statistics of the Committee on Statistics of the Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the most rapidly growing sectors of the economy, in which the share of employment among young people is growing, are the financial sector, hotel and restaurant business, and the fastest growing sector related to telecommunications and the Internet. In general, the analysis of the situation in the youth labor market shows relatively positive quantitative indicators. However, qualitative indicators of the youth labor market suggest significant problems and lack of competitiveness of young people of working age: many young people, including those with higher education and vocational secondary education, are self-employed in sectors that offer unskilled labor, such as agriculture or trade.
Today, there are many programs to support youth entrepreneurship. “Business Road Map – 2020” supports young entrepreneurs. Under this program, there was developed a project – “Business Advisor”. Entrepreneurship Development Fund “Damu” developed such programs, as “Damu-Komek”, “Business Support Center” and “Financing program of leasing transactions of small and medium-sized enterprises” (9). Among international programs, we can highlight a program of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as well as various business internship programs abroad. However, the provided support is often fragmented and inefficient. At the same time, despite the problems, the results of sociological studies have shown the increasing role of the entrepreneur profession among young people.
Another serious problem and obstacle for young people on the way to power is corruption. Young people, because of their lesser vulnerability to corruption, suffer most from it. Despite the large number of anti-corruption programs and existing positive examples of the fight against corruption, the situation remains difficult.
The path to the elites
In general, we can say that any special “Kazakhstan’s way” in the process of change and renewal of elites does not exist. The problems present in the field of transit of power are solved in the same way in Kazakhstan as in other transit countries, and the difficulties that arise during this process are not unique. The process of change of elites in Kazakhstan society is going on, but young people do not have time to participate in it, because by the time when businessmen or civil servants are gaining the necessary political weight to enter the ranks of the Kazakh political elites, they are no longer included in the category of “youth”. There are no quick means of social mobility in Kazakhstan. Many political myths associated with youth are not working in Kazakhstan. Thus, there is a steady stereotype of high youth protest activity. This myth is especially often discussed when there is some unrest with participation of the young in other countries. However, the studies and historical experience show that the Kazakh youth, as well as the general population, for the most part is conformist. At the same time, a number of signs is indicating that this conformity is artificial; it is linked to the fact that the political elites who are in power at the moment, by virtue of their financial possibilities provided by natural rent, can meet the needs of young people in education and employment. However, the situation is changing, the natural rent is reduced, and possibly, in the foreseeable future, there will be a moment when the ruling elites will have nothing to pay for the conformity of the youth.
Danil Bekturganov, President of PF “The Civil Expertise”
The opinion of the author does not necessarily represent the views of CABAR.asia